Ajax didn’t manage to take down Apoel Nicosia on Tuesday evening’s UEFA Champions League match. In a tense football battle, Lucas Andersen opened the score in the 28th minute, but Gustavo Manduca scored the tying goal three minutes later. The second half was exciting, but remained scoreless.
After a good draw in the home game against Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax’s aim was to win the away game at Apoel Nicosia. As coach Frank de Boer had stated prior to the start of the European season, PSG and Barcelona both are contenders to win the Champions League. Thus, Ajax would need to fight it out with the Cypriots for third place, for a Europa League spot. And whoever would win the matches between them could cautiously set their sights on the number two spot.
From kick-off, Ajax showed that they were serious about winning three points. In the second minute, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson had the opening goal at his feet, but shot the ball wide after a beautiful attack with Boilesen, Serero, Andersen and Klaassen. As Andersen had received a starting spot, and Lasse Schöne was able to play again after recovering from injury, the total number of Danes was three. The fourth, Niki Zimling, had relinquished his spot to Nick Viergever.
Andersen paid back this confidence shown in him with great, daring plays and he, rightfully, was the one who scored Ajax’s opening goal. After Ajax had dealt out some needling here and there via Sigthórsson and Klaassen, it was Andersen who struck gold in the 28th minute when the keeper turned away a Schöne shot. The left winger took full advantage of the rebound: 0-1. At that moment, the score was justified. Unfortunately, Ajax couldn’t enjoy the lead for very long, as three minutes later, referee Mazic placed the ball on the spot. The referee suspected a handball from Ricardo van Rhijn. Gustavo Manduca took advantage of the penalty shot to score: 1-1. This was a bitter pill to swallow for the Amsterdam team, and the players lost their groove somewhat. Two minutes before halftime, Ajax escaped when Cillian Sheridan was just one step short of scoring on a dangerous pass. The score remained 1-1 going into the break.
In the second half, Apoel played enthusiastically to its fans. Ajax was forced to put on the brakes regularly at midfield, which resulted in a yellow card for Nick Viergever. Ajax was the better team in this phase. In the 52nd minute, Schöne had a free shot opportunity on a pass from Van Rhijn, and in the counter-attack, Sheridan missed a good opportunity once again.
The stadium exploded a few minutes later when Cillessen hauled down Sheridan outside of his penalty kick area. Mazic brought out Ajax’s third yellow card. It was yet another spice in the nerve-wracking game in Nicosia. Although Ajax grew during the match, De Boer’s team had difficulty with the defending line of three and sometimes four men in the last row, and four in front of them. It was almost impossible to play through them. In the seventieth minute, Cillessen made a fantastic save on a shot into the corner, rescuing the team from a 2-1 score. Directly after, Sigthórsson didn’t manage to score on the counter-attack for the 1-2 goal. This only added to the game’s excitement.
In the 73rd minute, De Boer substituted Andersen and Schöne for El Ghazi and Kishna. This last immediately made a good pass which Sigthórsson, with a header, sent over the goal. Nine minutes before time, Ajax had the chance to score its second goal on a Van Rhijn free kick, but the rebound was missed by the new forwards. Shortly after that, Ajax escaped again when Cillessen played the ball back badly, but because substitute George Efrem was offside, the attack was stymied. The fact that he shot the ball into the goal with a beautiful curve wasn’t lost on the fanatic home crowd. Ajax came close to the Apoel keeper a few more times, but didn’t manage to pass Pardo. Ajax thus stalled at 1-1.